Money Laundering Case Filed Against Tablighi Jamaat Leader Maulana Saad
The Delhi Police crime branch has added the Indian Penal Code's (IPC) stringent Section 304 to the list of laws used against Maulana Saad, booking the head of the Tablighi Jamaat for "culpable homicide not amounting to murder" in connection with the coronavirus disease outbreak at the Muslim missionary group's headquarters in Nizamuddin Basti, which has emerged as the biggest Covid-19 hot spot in India.
The police filed a criminal case against Saad and six other top officials on March 31 for defying a series of government directives, which curbed religious and large gatherings, issued to contain the spread of the disease in the capital. Of the 1,578 cases reported in the city till Wednesday, 1,080were linked to gatherings at the Jamaat's Markaz building in Nizamuddin in mid-March.
Senior police officers said they will soon summon Saad because his 14-day period of self-quarantine (for being in contact with people who later tested positive) is over. The Tablighi Jamaat management said earlier this month that Saad was in isolation on his doctor's advice.
A senior police officer said that the first information report (FIR), filed on March 31, was first registered under sections of Disaster Management Act and the sections of the IPC including criminal conspiracy (120 B), a negligent act likely to spread disease (269), malignant act likely to spread infection (270), disobedience of quarantine rule (271) and defying prohibitory orders (188). The maximum punishment, if convicted, under those sections is a two-year prison term with a fine or both.
"Section 304 has now been added against Saad," the officer said. The maximum punishment under this law is a 10-year prison term.
Last month, police officers and state government officials evacuated more than 2,300 people from inside the Markaz building, where they had gathered for a religious congregation of indeterminate length. The meetings continued despite orders by the Delhi government banning all religious events (March 13), restricting gatherings to 200 people (March 16), and then putting a five-person limit on March 21 on all gatherings.
The gathering inside the Markaz — where people from several other countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan were also present — has been linked to at least 1,445 infections, spread across 17 states, including Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Explaining why the police added the stringent section, a mid-level officer said the Tablighi Jamaat management had defied the police's order urging them not to gather inside the Markaz. "There is an audio clip, in which Saad is heard telling his followers that the Covid-19 scare is a conspiracy. This audio tape is also mentioned in the FIR. He knew about the consequences of the disease but ignored it deliberately. Police had informed him before the lockdown to disperse the gathering but despite that they continued to live in the building. We also have a video recording of the local police telling the management to disperse the gathering but despite that the thousands of persons continued to stay inside. They had to be evacuated by police and government."
"His 14-day quarantine period is over. He was not there during the evacuation process. His interrogation is important to get more details about the gathering. Our officers are in touch with the Tablighi Jamaat management. We are yet to get a nod from our seniors on summoning him to join the investigation," said a second senior officer familiar with the investigation who asked not to be named.
Advocate LN Rao, who worked with the Delhi Police for over three decades till he retired in 2014, said that the police are within their rights to add another section to an existing FIR. "Across the world, people were dying of Covid-19. The government had issued the directions to stop such deaths and the spread of the disease. Despite knowing this, if the head of the Tablighi Jamaat continued with the gathering knowing fully well that it could result in deaths, then using Section 304 is a sound thing to do for an investigator. Police will now have to find evidence suggesting that the Maulana knew his action was likely to kill someone. Police are legally allowed to add the section and prima facie, it may seem to be the right thing to do. But if they are unable to find evidence against Saad under 304 then the court will not allow trial to proceed under that section. In some cases, police also do not file a charge sheet under that section, if they know that it will not pass the court's scrutiny."
A third officer aware of the matter said that the police know about Saad's whereabouts and will ensure that he does not leave the city, which is in any case under a lockdown.
"The crime branch has seized the computers and attendance registers from inside the Markaz, where the details of all the visitors and the gathering were noted. In reply to the questionnaire, they have also sent us some documents. The investigating officer will quiz Saad about the records," the third officer said on condition of anonymity.
On the police's move to add the stringent section to the FIR against Saad, his counsel, Fuzail Ayyubi, said, " We have only heard from the media about the case update and the summoning of 18 persons. We won't comment until police inform us about it."
Earlier this month, police sent two questionnaires to Saad with 29 questions related to the Tablighi Jamaat and the gatherings between March 10 and 15. In the first notice, which had 26 questions, sent on April 1, the investigating officer sought details of CCTV cameras inside the building and asked Saad to preserve the footage. The police asked for details of all people, including foreigners, present in the building last month. There was also a question about the steps taken by the management to disperse the gathering after the government's prohibitory orders were issued.
(Inputs from hindustantimes.com and image from indiatimes.com)
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